A Clockwork Orange - Calculated Captivity
Length: 1827 words (5.2 double-spaced pages)
"Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man."
In Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, a sadistic adolescent of the not-so-distant future is ‘rehabilitated’ of his violent nature by a special conditioning treatment. This fifteen year-old hoodlum Alex McDowell is ‘cured’ of his savage activities but when released back into a still violent society, he is a misfit. Anthony Burgess’ skillful art of manipulation is able to change the reader’s opinion from hating Alex for his malicious ways, to feeling captivated by him, as he becomes a ‘victim of a modern age’. To understand how this deception is accomplished it is important to examine the major turning points in Alex’s life, and how Burgess presents them. To begin, Burgess displays Alex’s villainous disposition, which causes the reader to hate and resent him. Through the aid of the State’s treatment Alex is reformed, at which point Burgess allows the reader to determine and develop an opinion of whether this treatment is morally acceptable or not. In the end however it is obvious that Alex has become a true "Clockwork Orange’ and despite the previous opinion of the reader, Burgess reveals the outcome in a way that causes a sense of relief and is pleased to see Alex back to ‘normal’.
It is fascinating to consider that Burgess may have written A Clockwork Orange as a prophetic view of warning to future societies. He was a peaceful person who didn’t want the stark consequences of the fictional Alex to become a grim reality. Through the first of three parts in the novel Burgess displays Alex as the embodiment of all that society would like to ignore or eliminate - but can’t. This first person narrative is told by Alex a youth of fifteen, who spends his nights with his "droogs", terrorizing the public with their bits of "ultra violence" and engaging in the old "in-out in-out". He beats the elderly, fights other gangs with his "britva", robs stores, breaks into houses, rapes young girls, drinks milk laced with drugs (moloko) and is eventually convicted of murder. Burgess portrays the immature Alex, as a mixture of good and evil possibilities with evil taking the upper hand. As the reader is taken deeper into Alex’s morbidly exciting world, he/she begins to feel complete hatred towards Alex. Not only does Burgess permit Alex to commit such heinous crimes, he describes them in a very disturbing manner.
Near the beginning of the novel there is a description of Alex torturing an older man. He cheerily describes it by saying "…we cracked into him lovely, grinning all over our listos…" (15). According to Alex, what causes good or evil is desire. He says "...what I do I do because I like to do" (34). He also states that he does not steal for the money, but for the pleasure of it. By this point Burgess has made the reader feel helpless, and although Alex was betrayed by his friends, there is a feeling of relief and satisfaction when Alex is thrown into the state jail. While the text itself is fiction, the subject of the content is real. Law’s are to be respected. It is for the good of the people, that governments create just and non-violent communities. Past and present day societies strive to obtain this status to ensure the security of its citizens. When criminals abolish this state of mind the remaining people become not only scared, but are also transformed into victims. Consequently, Burgess successfully enables the reader to transmit any fears or worries of a corrupt society directly onto Alex.
First impressions are not entirely difficult for an author to create, but by the second part in the novel Burgess attempts to change that impression. He draws the reader emotionally closer to Alex. As the second section begins Alex pleads for the readers sympathy when he says "…and this is the real weepy and tragic part of the story beginning, my brothers and only friends, in Staja (state jail that is) Number 84F" (61). Burgess implies that the reader should feel sorry for Alex because he has lost all freedom, and also feel lucky to be held in a position of friendship with this disturbing character. At the ‘staja’ Alex looses his identity and is referred to as 6655321. It is here that Alex serves two years of his sentence of fourteen. He is then chosen by the government to undergo an experimental new ‘Ludvidico’s technique’ administered by Dr. Brodsky. Its purpose is to ‘cure’ Alex of all that society deems ‘bad’ - and to provide him with a new artificial conscience. Alex is given injections and is forced to watch films of rape and violence. Through the mixture of these images and drugs, the treatment causes him to associate feelings of panic and nausea with violence. ConsequentlyAlex becomes his own walking prison! He is conditioned by physical sickness to refrain from fulfilling the evil he desires to accomplish. It is at this point that Burgess allows the reader to choose if the punishment fits the crime, as well as if the punishment is morally acceptable or not. If it is believed that the treatment is suitable, one would agree with Dr. Brodsky when he states, "We are not concerned with the motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with the cutting down crime…and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons" (99). Brodsky goes on to say that Alex "…will be your true Christian…ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than to crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought of even killing a fly" (101). While this statement is proven correct, the majority of readers will oppose this unethical resolution. Even though Burgess allows room for the reader to assess the situation by contributing personal opinions towards the moral dilemma, it is clear that he feels the treatment is inhumane. Burgess expresses this opinion through the prison chaplain after seeing Alex’s refusal to violence. The chaplain states "Choice…he has no real choice has he? Self interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that gross act of self abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a creature capable of moral choice" (99). At this point Burgess is playing on the readers’ emotions by probing the fundamentals of moral choice and free will, essentially asking the question ‘is a person necessarily good if he is incapable of choosing evil?’. Alex reaches a state where his humanity is in question which leads the majority of readers to side with Burgess in the opinion that when one does what he is forced to, he is merely a programmed pawn of the state, however when one has choice, he is an individual.
The final section of this novel deals with Alex as the victim. After being "sent with confidence out into the world again, as decent a lad as you would meet on a May morning, inclined to the kindly word and the helpful act" (97), Alex is quick to realize that his conditioning was not beneficial for his own welfare. Once released, Alex returns to his parents who plainly tell him he is not welcome. Out in the streets, this harmless boy crosses paths with enemies from previous encounters, and is unable to fight back as they brutally attack him. Following a revengeful attack from his former ‘droogs’ Alex declares "I was hurting bad, and then the rain started, all icy. I could viddy no lewdies in sight, nor no lights of houses. Where was I to go, who had no home and not much cutter in my carmans? I cried for myself boo hoo hoo. Then I got up and began walking". As the reader continues, he/she is overwhelmed with grief and saddened that Alex’s society has allowed their government to so widely overstep its boundaries. Burgess donates a morsel of hope as he places Alex in the care of a local resident, F. Alexander. However, it is to the reader’s dismay that this man’s only intentions for Alex are to exploit him.
F. Alexander expresses "What a superb device he can be, this boy. If anything, of course, he could for preference sake look even iller and more zombyish than he does. Anything for the cause." (127). This behavior generates anger in the reader, and also causes reflection with regards to present day politics and values. Alex’s torment continues until he reaches a point of madness. His state of oppression nearly becomes the death of him as he tries to end his life by jumping out of a window. At this point Burgess reveals to the reader that Alex has truly become ‘A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’. In his introduction Burgess states that if one "can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange – meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice, but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State" (xxiii). Following the injustice that Alex suffers, even readers who had previously agreed with Dr. Brodsky’s logical reasoning are forced to change opinions. Although highly populated prisons are an increasing problem it does not justify the act of brainwashing. Burgess profusely reveals that even the most violent crimes are trivial when compared to the heinous crime of oppression. In the final section however, Alex has been ‘cured’ once again, and has returned to his original madness. Human beings change, and Burgess wanted his protagonist to mature rather than stay in adolescent aggression. The twenty-first chapter shows this change and is important because it includes Alex’s mature assessment of his own adolescence and demonstrates the development into moral freedom. Finally it is Alex’s judgment that determines his actions, and is no longer a clockwork orange.
Within this condensed 148-page book, Burgess successfully manages to twist and turn the reader’s opinion of Alex. This detestable boy, in the end becomes an unfortunate victim, and although the reader is duped into feeling captivated by him, it is not unpleasant transition. Alex’s fantastical world is where the story begins, but the issues are unforgettable. In this world Burgess exaggerates potential societal problems to show the absurdity of them but, as the novel shows, this is no guarantee against "crime in the midst of punishment". The message presented in the book is so powerful because its focus pierces the reader so severely, that one is left to wonder how today’s society is manipulated. Burgess’ convictions on free choice and oppression are clearly stated, and hidden in the dark satire of the violent tale. As a reader, it is exciting to be not only captured by the story, but also to be involved as the author proves his remarkable skill of manipulation.